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Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Michael Bradley’s rise

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Michael Bradley’s rise

It would be easy to examine the U.S. player pool and see someone like Geoff Cameron as making greatest progress over the past 18 months. He certainly has rocketed up in the order during Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge.

Other up-and-comers have gone from somewhere near the international-level starting line to full speed, too, such as Fabian Johnson, Terrence Boyd, Danny Williams or Herculez Gomez.

But is it possible that the biggest advance, considering tangible and intangible elements, has been Michael Bradley’s?

His starting point was further ahead, to be sure … but look where the guy is today:

Bradley has clearly become the most important player in this U.S. program’s current version, an authoritative cop on the beat, the two-way man who makes the midfield go. He’s the top passer in midfield, a reliable tackler, a standard bearer in covering ground and a man who has become more tactically astute thanks to his year and a half in a league that emphasizes shape, cover and team movement, Italy’s Serie A.

Looking back over Klinsmann’s first weeks and months in charge, there were hints that the coach wanted to see how the team shaped up without the stoic midfielder who had been such a central presence under Bob Bradley, Michael’s father. After a start in Klinsmann’s debut against Mexico in August of 2011, Bradley missed starts against Costa Rica, Belgium, Honduras, Ecuador and France.

The United States lost four of those contests 1-0; the one “W” was registered at home against Honduras by the same score.

Bradley was back in the starting lineup on No. 15, 2011, in what would become Klinsmann’s breakthrough contest, a worthy 3-2 win at Slovenia. Even then, Klinsmann started Bradley on the right of a midfield diamond rather than in the middle.

Bradley was easily the best player on the field that cold night in Eastern Europe – and Klinsmann has not wanted him out of the starting lineup since.

The U.S. coach now says Bradley embodies exactly what he wants from every individual, the constant pursuit of individual betterment. Even more, Klinsmann sees what everyone else sees: a more balanced presence about Bradley now, a married man settled in his personal life, and one who may be freer to stand as team leader now that his father no longer is in charge.

Klinsmann also recognizes this “new Bradley” as a product of routine cycling among team elements, roles and chemistry. Group dynamics evolve with the World Cup cycles in national teams, Klinsmann says.

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He also said Bradley’s case perfectly illustrates why players should perennially push themselves from personal comfort zones with their club situations. He respects the way Bradley (and Clint Dempsey, too) has smartly maneuvered through the hierarchy of Europe’s club scene, from Heerenveen to Borussia Mönchengladbach to Aston Villa (on a short loan) to Chievo and now to Roma.

Every stop became a valuable “re-set,” Klinsmann said, another starting point. He credited both Bradley and Dempsey for recognizing the re-set and fighting like mad to rise up, not just to meet the new level but to grind their way to the top of it. To conquer it.

“They have to fight through the whole thing again,” Klinsmann said.

He mentioned how Dempsey is starting at Tottenham, never mind that less-than-perfect launch into life at White Hart Lane, the late leap into Spurs’ season.

“Roma is the same way [with Bradley],” Klinsmann said. “They have two or three guys there that are pretty much on the same level. These are all national team players from different countries.

“So this is what we need, that they carry that spirit and experience back into our camps. And then they can tell these younger guys, ‘It’s not coming automatically for you. You have to work for it. You have to fight through it. Don’t settle early.’ ”

Younger players can learn so much from that kind of commitment to excellence, Klinsmann said. He drew the circle back to Jozy Altidore.

“There’s a whole other level, two or three levels, waiting for Jozy.” He just need look at Bradley for the blueprint on getting there.

Anyone watching the games can see what Bradley means to the product on the field. Klinsmann sees the bigger picture – and Bradley’s contributions outside the 90-minute windows might be equally important.

MORE of the Klinsmann conversation …

 

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 2-2 Colorado Rapids (video)

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba celebrates his goal against the Colorado Rapids during first half of an MLS soccer game, Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Dropped points from a winning position are the ones that frustrate and come back to haunt managers more than anything. Twice on Saturday, the Montreal Impact conceded goals from a winning position and were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw with the suddenly rampant Colorado Rapids at Stade Saputo. Didieo Drogba scored another magnificent free kick (video below), but a bit of calamitous set-piece defending on the Rapids’ second goal ultimately meant two points dropped by Mauro Biello’s side, though their hold on the Eastern Conference’s top spot remains intact for one more day (third-place Toronto FC will go top of the East with a win on Sunday). The Rapids, meanwhile, are four games without a defeat and top of the Western Conference for the time being (fourth- and fifth-place LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake could claim the spot as their own with wins on Sunday and Saturday, respectively).

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three Four moments that mattered

9′ — Drogba’s latest FK beauty makes it 1-0 — If you haven’t loved watching Drogba destroy MLS since his arrival last August, you must be a Toronto FC fan. Or you hate fun, beautiful things, like this free kick.

47′ — Gashi finishes Williams’ cross for 1-1 — Mekeil Williams served the ball across the face of goal, and Gashi made no mistake on the finish, hammering it past Evan Bush to bring the visitors level.

50′ — Tissot hammers home from distance to restore the lead — As they say, this ball stayed hit. Also, it had eyes.

73′ — Burling smashes home from close range — Gashi’s free kick caused all kinds of problems for the Impact defense, leaving Bush unsure of whether to come out and attack the ball or stay on his line. Axel Sjoberg kept the play alive, playing the ball across the face of goal, and Bobby Burling found himself on the right side of his marker.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Shklezen Gashi

Goalscorers: Drogba (9′), Gashi (47′), Tissot (50′), Burling (73′)

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 3-2 Vancouver Whitecaps (video)

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
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The game in 100 words (or less): New York City FC are still Frank Lampard-less (he’s yet to even appear on the bench this season), but at least they’re not seven games without a victory anymore. Having last won a game back on March 6, opening day, Patrick Vieira’s side stole one of the wackier games we’re likely to see all season at — yes, you guessed it — Yankee Stadium on Saturday. From down a goal after 37 seconds, to up 2-1 after a pair of brilliant strikes by David Villa, to staring into the face of another disappointing draw, to late jubilation, being an NYCFC supporter must be super fun awful exhausting. Let’s talk about Villa for a moment: 32 goals and assists combined in 39 MLS appearances. That’s not quite Robbie Keane territory, but alongside Sebastian Giovinco, he’s the only one anywhere close to achieving Keane’s obscene numbers.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

1′ — Saunders gifts Rivero an early opener — It took NYCFC all of 37 seconds to go a goal behind, and Josh Saunders has no one but himself to blame for this one. Octavio Rivero hadn’t scored a goal in over eight months. This is one way to get going.

35′ — Villa clinical with his chance for 1-1 — Khiry Shelton played the through ball into acres of space, and Villa doesn’t miss chances like this one.

41′ — Villa side-volleys from a corner kick for 2-0 — Having Andrea Pirlo serve up delicate set-piece delivery to the back post for David Villa seems a fairly smart “gameplan” by Patrick Vieira. Villa is simply brilliant.

63′ — Bolaños puts home his own saved-PK rebound — Kekuta Manneh was taken down inside the penalty area, and Christian Bolaños nearly blew the penalty chance, but the Costa Rican followed up on the rebound and pulled the visitors level again.

73′ — Mendoza beats Ousted at his near post for the winner — David Ousted will be seeing this one in his sleep tonight. Beaten at his near post by a worm-burner without too terribly much behind it … not great from the big Dane.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Rivero (1′), Villa (35′, 41′), Bolaños (63′), Mendoza (73′)

MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Columbus Crew SC (video)

Seattle Sounders' Jordan Morris, left, celebrates with teammate Nelson Valdez, right, after Morris scored a goal against the Philadelphia Union during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Saturday, April 16, 2016, in Seattle. The goal was Morris' first career MLS goal, and the Sounders defeated the Union 2-1. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 100 words (or less): Slowly but surely, it’s all starting to come together for the Seattle Sounders. Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC is the latest proof we have that Sigi Schmid’s side is finding its way and realizing its new, post-Obafemi Martins identity. After struggling mightily the first month and a half of the 2016 season, Saturday’s win saw a side full of attacking intent and, most importantly, ever-dangerous on counter-attacks.  As a newly-committed 4-3-3 side, this season’s edition of the Sounders will have to be much sturdier at the back, adept at attacking down the wings, and ruthless with their inevitably fewer chances. It was the last bit of that that eluded them for much of Saturday afternoon, but Jordan Morris provided the late breakthrough to score his third goal in three games, and suddenly the most heralded homegrown player in MLS history is flying.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

42′ — Finlay is in one-on-one, blows the finish — The build-up was brilliant, and all Ethan Finlay had to do was beat Stefan Frei with a shot inside of either post. Instead…

50′ — Dempsey heads just over the bar at the far post — Joevin Jones got all the way up the left wing and whipped in a delightful cross to the back post, but Clint Dempsey couldn’t keep his header down and it sailed just over the bar (WATCH HERE).

88′ — Morris bundles home after Clark makes a save — More like Jordan on the Spot, am I right?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Osvaldo Alonso

Goalscorers: Morris (88′)

PL Sunday preview: The day Leicester are crowned champions?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City (top) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on April 24, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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The race for the 2015-16 Premier League title could be officially over by this time tomorrow. The biggest day in the history of Leicester City Football Club awaits…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Swansea City vs. Liverpool — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Swansea City (40 points – 15th place) are ever so close to guaranteeing their status as a Premier League club for another season, and a win over Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium would do the mathematical trick for the Swans. Three points would also vault them into 13th place with two games remaining on the season, a dream-land finish to the campaign that months ago looked destined to end in a relegation scrap.

As for Liverpool, the’re 10 points back of Manchester City for fourth place and UEFA Champions League qualification, so don’t be surprised if Jurgen rests a handful of key contributors with both eyes focused on Thursday’s UEFA Europa League semifinal second leg against Villarreal (Liverpool trail 1-0 after the first leg). Winning the UEL is the Reds’ last avenue for Champions League qualification next season, and the kind of recruiting tool Klopp will so desperately need to build his own squad in the summer transfer window.

Injuries: Swansea — OUT: Leroy Fer (hamstring), Alberto Paloschi (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Divock Origi (ankle), Emre Can (ankle), Jordan Henderson (knee), Mamadou Sakho (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Philippe Coutinho (illness)

[ MORE: PL roundup — Newcastle get massive win in relegation fight ]

Manchester United vs. Leicester City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

The last nine months have merely been building up to this day, this game, for this team — the soon-to-be Premier League champions, Manchester United Leicester City. Are you prepared to live in a world where, for 12 full months, the tag of “defending Premier League champions” will precede any mention of the Foxes? You better be, because it’s happening, perhaps on Sunday.

Louis Van Gaal has challenged his Man United side to not be the foes against which Leicester win the title, but that’ll be easier said than done against the side with the best points tally from away games (37 points from 17 games) in the league this season, including away triumphs over Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and West Ham United already. When these sides met back in November, it was United who grabbed a second-half equalizer for a 1-1 draw, canceling out Jamie Vardy‘s opener which set a new Premier League record for consecutive games with a game (11). The math is simple: a win for Leicester, and they’re PL champions; a draw for Leicester and a draw or loss for Tottenham at Chelsea on Monday, and Leicester are champions; a loss for Leicester and a loss for Tottenham, and Leicester are champions.

Injuries: Man United — OUT: Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Luke Shaw (leg)| Leicester — OUT: Jamie Vardy (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Leonardo Ulloa (back)

[ MORE: PHOTOS — Arsenal fans hold another protest of club, Wenger ]

Southampton vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

West Ham’s thrashing of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (plus a possible result for Man United on Sunday) at least makes the race for a top-four finish interesting for Man City, inasmuch as they need to win away to Southampton in order to maintain a five point gap between themselves and fifth place (a win would see them go back above Arsenal for third, based on goal differential).

As for Southampton, a win would secure their third straight top-eight finish in the PL, with a decent shot at leapfrogging Liverpool for seventh. When Saints and City met back in November, it was the latter side who took all three points in a 3-1 home victory.

Injuries: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Charlie Austin (knee) | Man City — OUT: David Silva (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Yaya Toure (thigh), Samir Nasri (hamstring)